Marylanders can appreciate sour beef and dumplings

November 24, 2001|By JACQUES KELLY

THANKS TO the vagaries of the editing process, an obituary I wrote recently on the great Jack Kelbaugh, the fine teacher, scholar and historian of Anne Arundel County, was published lacking a crucial detail. Jack, who died Nov. 15 of a heart attack while discussing Civil War history, was a genuine Marylander. He loved his county, the Chesapeake Bay - and his local delicacies.

As a farm lad in Harmans, where his family lived for many years, he gained a respect for the fruits of the soil. He raised his own vegetables and was ever making pots of crab soup and chafing dishes of crab imperial.

But, as a Marylander, he also savored sour beef and dumplings - and was always looking for the perfect recipe. He haunted the church suppers of Locust Point in Baltimore for the ideal sauerbraten. I trust he has located it now that he is not of this world.

Jack's taste for Maryland foods ran afoul of an editor who deleted his predilection for sour beef from his obituary. I am sure that it must have seemed odd to salivate over a dish that is German in origin - or to place sour beef in the same sentence as the crab dishes that Jack prepared. Could sour beef be a Baltimore/Maryland dish? To my tastebuds, it is a Maryland dish.

Well, this is Thanksgiving week, and wasn't I making sauerkraut the other morning just as I was agitating over the omitted reference to Jack's food preference? Here we are, below the Mason-Dixon Line, dishing out sauerkraut to give our overcooked turkeys a taste wallop.

I often repeat a sentence taught me by the late Wilbur H. Hunter, another of my local history teachers: In Baltimore in 1900, one in four persons spoke German as their mother tongue.

That statistic speaks volumes about why we like our cabbage, sour beef and dumplings.(Come to think of it, isn't it November when the old German churches in ancient Baltimore neighborhoods hold their sour beef suppers?)

I think one of the reasons that sauerbraten gets a bad rap is that it is not a beautiful and stylish food. Fancy chefs give it plenty of distance. They stay away from the fare of church suppers and Sunday noon meals. And while there is a certain trendiness to so-called comfort foods, sauerkraut and sauerbraten do not achieve this vaunted characterization, not even in an obituary.

I've always identified with the kind of person who is not afraid to order - and serve - the dishes that irritate the food critics. I like an eater who says, "Delete the salad Nicoise and bring me the sweetbreads, the kidney stew or the ham bone bean soup."

Or, as the now sainted Jack Kelbaugh once did, I give my blessing to the fearless food searcher who spends a November night wandering the complicated streets of old Baltimore in search of our best sour beef supper.

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